Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

If This Isn't Nice, What Is? (Much) Expanded Second Edition

The Graduation Speeches and Other Words to Live By

by Kurt Vonnegut

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Best known as one of America’s most astonishing and enduring contemporary novelists, Kurt Vonnegut was also a celebrated commencement address giver. Vonnegut never graduated from college, so his words to any class of graduating seniors always carried the delight, and gentle irony, of someone savoring an achievement he himself had not had occasion to savor on his own behalf.
“But about my Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now,” Vonnegut, an avowed Humanist, would say sometimes in a graduation speech, “one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. . . . We could be drinking lemonade in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’”

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? includes eleven speeches and four pieces of journalism on related themes. Six of the fifteen are new to the second edition—on topics as wide-ranging as why it is that Kurt Vonnegut’s dog loves people more than Kurt Vonnegut does, and what it feels like to be the most censored writer in America—and much, much more.

In each of these talks and short essays, Vonnegut takes pains to find the few things worth saying and a conversational voice to say them in that’s funny and serious and joyful even if sometimes without seeming so.

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Born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few grandmasters of modern American letters. Called by the New York Times “the counterculture’s novelist,” his works guided a generation through the miasma of war and greed that was life in the U.S. in second half of the 20th century. After stints as a soldier, anthropology PhD candidate, technical writer for General Electric, and salesman at a Saab dealership, Vonnegut rose to prominence with the publication of Cat’s Cradle in 1963. Several modern classics, including Slaughterhouse-Five, soon followed. Never quite embraced by the stodgier arbiters of literary taste, Vonnegut was nonetheless beloved by millions of readers throughout the world. “Given who and what I am,” he once said, “it has been presumptuous of me to write so well.” Kurt Vonnegut died in New York in 2007.